In this debut collection, Jesse Nathan matches an exquisite feeling for the music of lines and sentences with his profound explorations of the idea of home. The book’s title comes from the word for a bit of cartilage on a baby bird’s beak, a growth that helps it break out of the egg. Shortly after the bird hatches, the tooth disappears. Like an eggtooth, Nathan’s poems are often figures for the violence of birth and, in his case, rebirth. They follow an unusual and passionate boy from his childhood on a wheat farm in the watershed of the Running Turkey Creek in rural southcentral Kansas — “the land was always the solace” — to his life years later in a coastal city.
Ecology, family, history, sexuality, and poetry itself are his subjects, but in all these matters, Nathan’s rich formal imagination travels our fundamental feelings of alienation and belonging. In a style somehow both lavish and plainspoken, in free verse and inherited forms, Eggtoothtakes us from straw-bale fortresses in the hayloft, from fishing in streams and days so hot the “blank road shimmers” as the heat drives you out of your “straw-frail” mind, to the respite and loneliness of a far-off city plaza, to the “waves in their folding” at the edge where an ocean comes “boiling” onto sand. With verbal precision and abiding sympathy, Nathan’s poems announce a capacious and deeply compelling new voice in American letters.